Saturday, 19 June, 2021
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OPINION

Budjet's Focus On Ending Pandemic



Jaya Shor Chapagain

The federal government has recently unveiled an ambitious budget of Rs 1.647 trillion for the fiscal year 2021/22, which mainly focused on combating the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring vaccination for all citizens and boosting education and physical infrastructure. However, the opposition political parties have accused the government of bypassing the parliament to introduce the ‘populist’ budget.
As the House of Representatives (HoR) has been dissolved, the government has brought the budget through ordinance. In a normal situation, the budget has to be presented in the joint session of the federal parliament after holding rigorous discussions on the government’s policy and programmes. A people-friendly budget focuses on both processes and content. It would have been easier for the government to implement the budget if the people’s representatives had taken part in the preparation of the fiscal document.
However, the government has accorded topmost priority to dealing with COVID-19. It has also come up with some vital relief packages for the recovery of the pandemic-hit economy. The size of this year’s budget has slightly been increased to Rs. 1.647 trillion from the current fiscal year’s Rs. 1.474 trillion. Thus, the proposed budget is an 11.73 per cent bigger than that of the current fiscal year.
The government has increased social security allowance of senior citizens, single women and people with disabilities by 33 per cent. It has raised the budget from Rs. 90.69 billion to Rs. 122.77 billion for handling COVID-19 and expanding and upgrading health infrastructure. Of the total amounts allocated for the health sector, Rs. 37.53 billion has been set aside for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 patients. It has allocated Rs. 26.75 billion for the procurement of vaccines and Rs. 4 billion for purchasing medical equipment required for hospitals to treat the patients suffering from the deadly virus disease.
It is notable that the government is in the process of constructing a 300-bed hospital in Kathmandu and one infectious disease hospital in each of seven provinces. It plans to provide 50 per cent subsidy to all the hospitals for installing oxygen plants and waive taxes on the import medical supplies related to COVID-19. This is expected to enhance people's confidence in federalism. The plan to set up infectious disease hospitals in all seven provinces will help increase people's access to healthcare services. In spite of such positive steps, the budget remains silent about developing more human resources required for the health sector.
Similarly, the government has aimed to create about 200,000 jobs under the Prime Minister Employment Programme. To encourage entrepreneurship, it has announced a 100 per cent rebate on income tax for start-ups for up to five years from the date of commencement of operation. Besides, it also aims to replace 168,000 thatch-roofed households with tin roofs. The government is also going to build houses underprivileged communities in 73 districts under Janata Awas Karyakram.
Additionally, the government has introduced an accident insurance scheme of up to Rs. 700,000 for journalists and free treatment for them at government hospitals on the basis of the press pass issued by the Department of Information and Broadcasting.
It is imperative that that the Ministry of Finance should hold a series of consultations with other ministries and concerned authorities to achieve the targeted goals spelt out in the annual budget.